Monday, June 30, 2008

Guzzle, guzzle, choke

Long, long ago - or a couple of months back, depending on your perspective on Time - there lived a married couple who enjoyed leisurely meals, with dessert or fruit to follow, and coffee after that.

This couple - dang, let's just go with 'we' - would engage in witty dinner conversation, swap stories of how the day went and exchange intelligent observations about the state of the world.

Sure, we're idealising things. So sue us. Because since Sonny entered our lives almost 10 weeks ago, our eating habits have regressed tragically. We don't actually eat any more. We eat when we can, with an eye on whether the little one is about to erupt. Food gets shovelled in with no regard for taste or texture. Our minds, even if they occasionally take us down the route of chit-chat, jump to and away from Sonny's activities with distressing regularity. And Sonny makes sure the pattern isn't broken: At breakfast yesterday, to give an example, he interrupted our porridge and dim sum three times - even though we had been wolfing our food down as quickly as possible.

We're not only eating faster, but increasingly on the go. We're learning the art of holding a baby with one arm while chomping on an apple using the other. And as for repartee, heck, Mum's not even reading the newspapers as regularly any more, so there'd be less to dissect anyway.

Of course, it's not just new parents who find themselves speed-eating with a vengeance. Folks who work in high-octane work environments habitually ruin their digestion by pouring food down their gullets, or foregoing mealtimes altogether, before charging back to their terminals or beats or workstations. If you're a policeman, especially in America, you apparently subsist exclusively on coffee and doughnuts (it's coffee and smelly cigarettes in Europe). We ought to be feeling positively virtuous about sacrificing our gastronomic well-being on the altar of child-rearing.

Except we know that's silly too. Sonny can jolly well cry on a bit longer while we chew our food more thoroughly - although it's a bit trickier if we're in public, as we were yesterday. Maybe things will get even crazier once we have to actually feed him solid food. But that too shall pass. We'll re-establish our routine, dine with dignity and - peering into our handy-dandy crystal ball here - ultimately be able to include Sonny in the conversation.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fantasy friends arriving

Not long ago, we blogged about the eerie toy mouse that Sonny had taken a shine to - and was burbling chattily to, instead of us.

Well, if you can't beat 'em, why not join 'em? If the way to get our almost 10-week-old son to take a greater interest in things around him is through fantasy friends, such friends he will have. We've been fixing up a small neighbourhood's worth of characters to use as mouthpieces for interaction, complete with thumbnail histories:

There's Clothy, an old hand towel that was the runt of his litter (his siblings are luxurious bath towels), but faithfully tends to Sonny by wiping sweat off his brow and spit from his lips. There's Ching Ching, a rattle who hails from a circus family and so likes to entertain with song and rhyme. There's Wordster, an eight-page cloth book who's a librarian by profession and is ever ready to supply facts ("That's a television. This is a newspaper").

And that dratted mouse? We had to find him a place in the universe-under-construction- so he's a thug for hire, whose unthreatening cover story is summed up in his trademark jingle, 'I'm Mickey the Commando Mouse'.

It's not just that we hope such friendships will benefit Sonny, in that these characters' varied talents and knowledge should - taken together - allow us to clue him in to various aspects of the world around him. Truth be told, the project is taking on a life of its own as Mum and (especially) Pa gleefully fill Sonny in on the background of his pals. By now, it's more fun for parents than son: Even as our child stares blankly through most of the narration, we're rediscovering a childlike love for fantasy and invention. For weaving adventure stories and investing them with a degree of emotional attachment.

Beyond that, we're pleased that populating Sonny's world has not required a kowtowing to the toy and entertainment industry, or simply accepting whatever they serve up as the flavour of the month. We're creating our own stories - our own heroes and villains - using as materials everything from humdrum household objects to gifts from friends.

And how soon can Sonny join in flexing his creative muscles? To be honest, even as we've spent the last few days laying the foundation for thrilling adventures with magical friends, his interests may have moved on. He's evinced a definite fascination with television, especially with Korean-language serials and leggy models.

Oh boy. How do we weave Heidi Klum into Sonny's world?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

High noon at home

The confrontations can flare up once the bottle hoves into view.

On one side, there is the almost 10-week old baby, packing a fearsome array of howls and a determination to accept milk only from his mother's breast.

On the other side are his parents, who know that Sonny must get used to bottle-feeding, especially since he enters daytime infant care soon. They return fire with firm admonitions and a denial of all further food until the bottle of expressed breast milk is gulped down.

For now, the rule is one bottle feeding a day, usually in the afternoon. And the parents have won these skirmishes, though not before spectacular screams-versus-warnings showdowns that can last for hours. Ironically, Sonny once had no problem drinking from both the breast and the bottle: We always tried to mix it up, precisely to prevent rejection. But then we went perhaps a week or so without any bottle feedings, which are more cumbersome since they first require pumping out the milk, then sterilising a feeding bottle.

By the time we re-introduced the bottle a few days ago, Sonny's attitude had hardened. After a few desultory suckles, he will start pushing the teat away using his tongue. If we persist, he begins to wildly shake his head. Then the crying starts, with all the trimmings. We let him bawl his heart out for a bit, then see if he's ready to capitulate. Sometimes, he's so defiant he commences his protests upon merely glimpsing the bottle.

Eventually, however, he gets tuckered out, or becomes simply too hungry. The bottle is accepted, even greedily so, and he wants more after draining it. His reward is a return to the breast, the storm clouds vanish and another day's milk shootout ends. But the next day brings more confrontations. We're now thinking of increasing the bottle feeds to twice a day - and so steeling ourselves for even more trips to our very own OK Corral.

Sometimes, a parent's gotta do what a parent's gotta do.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Parents turn parrots

If you were to eavesdrop at our front door, you would hear endless repetitions of one or two phrases - as though we had an especially enthusiastic pet parrot that had just learned some new lines.

"I'm Pa. You're Sonny." " I'm Mum. You're Sonny." "You're Sonny, I'm Pa and this is Mum".

This goes on all day, at meal sessions, during bath times and as random eruptions.

Yes, we're the guilty party here, and yes, we're just a little insecure. According to some of the literature we've read, a two-month-old baby should be able to clearly identify his parents and even smile in response. Well, Sonny sailed through the two-month mark last week. But he's not really showing a great deal of responsiveness. And the occasional smiles he's offered up remain intermittent and non-directed (so that our post on the topic, weeks ago, still summarises the state of play).

Consequently, after being rather blase early on and speaking of letting things "take their natural course", we've decided that it can't hurt to give nature a little nudge. Apart from shoving colourful objects up Sonny's nose to stimulate him, waving rattles and breaking out the cloth books, we keep returning to the matter of his recognising us. Surely the young fella owes us a little baby-style acknowledgement by now, for all the sleepless nights and cossetting sessions. But we're reasonable people; we know repetition is crucial... ergo, the many "I'm Pa, I'm Mum, you're Sonny" iterations.

Is it working? Well, he does seem to zero in on Mum as the go-to milk dispenser (but that's a whole other matter, about which we'll soon blog). He clings to us readily enough and likes to snooze nestled under our necks. In fact, he's become rather fussy about it, and will demand service rather imperiously.

To be honest, after insisting that he acknowledge us, perhaps we're about to get too much of a good thing...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sonny's deadly nails

It's just a few weeks before Sonny is packed off to daytime infant care and Mum returns to work. Concerns assail us, from the uncertain quality of the staff to the opening hours, but here's the most recent worry: The other babies don't seem to wear mittens.

Sonny wears them, pretty much all the time. The reason is simple: His nails. They are ridiculously sharp and he has just enough strength now to inflict a painful scratch. Not that he knows what he's doing; he's just swinging his arms merrily about, fingers randomly grasping at whatever they come into contact with. Woe betide if that whatever is unprotected human flesh.

His toenails are nasty weapons too, but Sonny always has his booties on. It's just that, more than once, Mum has tried removing his mittens - in the hope of starting him on clutching objects. She has always shoved them back on, almost immediately, to remove the threat Sonny's nails posed - as much to himself as to anyone. We figured at first that his nails must be too long, so Mum trimmed them carefully. No dice: even when pared way down, they were still painfully scratch-capable.

It was with some horror, then, that Mum discovered - when scoping out the infant care centre - that the children there went mitten-free. And they must all wear the same uniform too! The thought of a mitten-less Sonny wreaking havoc on his own face, and perhaps on his centre-mates and care-givers, gives us the shivers.

Still, we're guessing that the abnormal sharpness of his nails is a passing phenomenon. Even if it proves otherwise, he'll surely learn not to scratch himself eventually, just as we learn that there are certain ways of behaving that rebound negatively upon ourselves - and so learn self-control. But then again, there are some people - adults, these - who stubbornly refuse to take to heart the most obvious of lessons, and insist on damaging their own reputations or even health (cigarette, anyone?).

If Sonny turns out to be one of these self-scratchers, he'll always need someone to guide him. Someone to keep slipping on his mittens for him, if you like - and trimming away at his nails. In politics, that someone is called a 'handler', 'spin-meister' or 'public relations man'.

Unfortunately, as far as Sonny goes, we're the folks on point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Our hardworking piano

Singapore's Minister Mentor, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, declared recently: "We want no layabouts".

He'd been enlarging on the social safety net being woven to protect needy Singaporeans. But in our modest little home, we too "want no layabouts". In fact, our slogan could be: "Flexible and Redeployable".

We're talking about the furniture, however. We don't think any item and its original function should be welded together inflexibly. Take our model candidate, our piano. Sure, it can produce a tune when Mum or Pa tickles the ivories. But yesterday, we were discussing the possibility of deploying it as a child safety device. By positioning it just so in our living room, it might block Sonny's access to the windows that look out invitingly over the pool - this, of course, for when he reaches that age when he will want to climb and explore everywhere. The piano already doubles as a stand for our wireless modem, spinnable globe and phone charger. The piano seat even substitutes for a portable dining table when we're eating in front of the television.

The piano can't hog all the glory. We've redeployed our study table as Sonny's bathing station. One of our spare beds is where we usually change his diapers (though its useability is in question, as we've just blogged about). Even our television sits on a revolving stand, so it can be viewed from various parts of the apartment.

Of course, we can go too far when pushing the flexibility agenda. It subsequently occurred to us that the piano, rather than barring Sonny's way, could be used by him as a stepping stone to more easily reach the windows. And when every other item is dual-use (at a minimum), things can seem altogether too makeshift. So there's always a balance to be struck - just as, in the broader realm of governance, one must take into account the positives and negatives when extending the social safety net in a particular way.

Luckily, we have time. Having passed only the two-month mark, Sonny can just about slither about like a worm, so we can still fine-tune our safety plans. But we mustn't hang about - or the feared challenge (in this case, a more active Sonny, not a low-wage foreign worker squeezing out pricier locals) will suddenly be upon us.

And we'd be singing a different tune then - or possibly playing it on the piano.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When parenting is like a horror movie

With any horror movie, much of the suspense and tension lies in how we absolutely know that the vampire/ serial killer/ monster will strike again - without knowing exactly when.

That's pretty much the state we find ourselves in, in relation to Sonny's powers of flipping.

Flipping, you say? No, we weren't thinking barbecues and burgers, or speedily buying and selling shares for quick profits. Rather, at round about the two-month mark, our young 'un has acquired enough arm and thigh power to go from lying on his stomach to facing the ceiling. Perhaps 10 days ago, he performed this flip while on a mattress on a floor - as witnessed by his unhappy parents. Unhappy, because we instantly realised that the spare bed that we've been using as a convenient changing station had suddenly become a springboard to danger: Sonny might flip himself right out and on to the floor.

The thing is, he hasn't repeated the performance. Oh, we've seen him do the same sort of warm-ups that he went through before his successful flip: His arms flail and legs bash at the floor, as though he's in a hurry to get someplace. This display is accompanied by strange yips and the laboured breathing of a weekend squash player. Yet the climactic turn-over has not been reached since.

So we're back to using the bed as a changing station. We tell ourselves that Sonny's flailing and leg-bashing should cue us to any danger (this parallels the creepy music that always plays before the movie monster pounces). Yet what happens if Sonny turns out to have a sense of taut pacing and love of shock that outstrip our wariness?

By now, convenience be damned, we just wish Sonny would go ahead and get it over with. Just flip a time or two, and Mum and Pa can find some other changing station, or figure out some other solution.

The suspense is killing us.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mini-debates for mini-wheels

Whenever we've discussed getting a car, matters like clogged roads, safety and pollution always come up.

These issues must have seared themselves into our subconscious: When we went out and bought a stroller recently, they surfaced again - albeit in baby-realm guise.

We'd been prowling the stroller scene for a while now, wavering between three- or four-wheel models, one- or two-step folding mechanisms and so on. Finally, we chose a Maclaren and trundled home with Sonny bouncing along, looking rather miffed (he prefers Mum's sarong). Then we began noticing the parallels:

Clogged roads: Suddenly, every other sidewalk seemed crammed with prams, strollers or buggies. At the supermarket, there was a traffic jam in the aisles as strollers converged in cheery chaos. Were people wheeling their children about irresponsibly, Pa caught himself thinking, where narrowness of lane would have made a baby carrier or sarong more sensible? It was a replay of arguments for and against, say, discouraging cars in city centres - except there's no stroller equivalent of the car pool.

Safety: We started observing how some strollers come with chunky wheels and wide-body features that make them ready for urban combat. Others are slimmer and lighter, but would crumple in a collision, or easily tip over on encountering a pothole. It is just like SUVs squaring off against nippy hatchbacks. On the subject of safety, speedy - and speeding - also came to mind: What would be a sensible speed limit for a stroller?

Pollution: At least motorised strollers haven't made their debut, so current incarnations are all human-powered and cannot contribute to global warming. But when we stopped at a coffee shop for a snack, luxuriating in not having to keep Sonny to our chests either in a carrier or sarong, pollution confronted us head-on: A chap at the next table lit up, and ciggie smoke wafted our way. Unlike with a sarong and carrier, where we could at least partially shield Sonny, the stroller left him utterly exposed. We ate fast and sped off home.

Of course, our continuing soul-searching over getting a car is also roiled by questions of cost. Our son's new wheels cost us a pretty penny, but they still don't come near the price tag for, say, a Hyundai Avante. It would have been cool, however, to have had a stroller odometer installed - so we'll know just how many miles we eventually cover with our Sonnymobile.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

An infant's surrender

When Sonny slips into really deep sleep, we can always tell: Both arms swivel upwards, so that he looks like a soldier surrendering to an enemy. The limbs then lock into position so that, if we pick him up, his arms jut skywards as though flash-frozen.

At first, we figured this was a characteristic unique to Sonny (we're always deluding ourselves this way, as reported in an earlier post). But his grandmother soon set us to rights: "Most small babies sleep this way," she revealed.

And there's rather a pleasant bit of symbolism to that fact. It may be true that just about every human is born with the potential to be a fully-contributing member of society. Nevertheless, for at least the first few years of his life, he is completely helpless. The infant literally surrenders or hands over control of every facet of his life to someone else - the parent or some other caregiver. Sonny's deep-in-sleep 'Kamarad!' enacts his continuing abandonment of any vestige of self-determination, even though we now think of the child as still retaining certain rights - such as the right not to be abused, deprived of education and so forth.

And there's the twist, of course. For once you remember that the baby is still considered 'protected property', it become less clear who is surrendering to whom. For we parents do a heck of a lot of surrendering too, once a child is visited upon us. Our freedom of action, planning requirements and long-term perspectives are all subjugated to the need to care for the little one. His welfare and happiness are taken as prior to our own. Admittedly, there's no reason why such 'giving up' shouldn't be a joyful affair.

But 'giving up' it still is.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Our top ten babycare tips (Part II)

The countdown started yesterday. Now, the Top 5 in the 10 tips we've distilled from our two months as parents:

No 5: Position can be critical
This one is for breastfeeding mothers: After dealing with sudden, inexplicable bawling fits midway through feeding, Mum discovered that just how she positioned Sonny relative to herself was a crucial factor. Maybe it's just that our son is too particular, but he'll at least be fidgety if he can't comfortably burrow in and suckle without extending himself. It can sometimes seem like a gymnastics session, but bothering to fine-tune the mutual contortions can produce a fuss-free feed.

No 4: Grow a third eye
We're not trying to be facetious. Babies, we've decided, try their darnedest to execute their mischief when your back's turned or attention's distracted - whether it's throwing up, expelling other waste products or yanking breakable objects. In the absence of supplementary eyes, we've had to train ourselves (imperfectly, thus far) to continually update ourselves on what Sonny is up to.

No 3: Get out and about with your little one
All right, we know you're not supposed to venture into crowded areas too soon, to avoid germs. But if you can be sensible about it (and just stay a shut-in for the first month, perhaps), there's nothing more therapeutic than a few hours in the open with your baby, reconnecting with the world, pointing things out to him and soaking in 'How cute' comments from strangers. Make it a half-empty park if you must. We favour a sarong slug over Mum's chest, with Sonny tucked inside, but carriage options extend to strollers and baby carriers.

No 2: Sing to baby (a bit of dancing won't hurt either)
When Sonny is crying at the slightest provocation, only one response has been effective almost without fail: Cradling the fella and singing any made-up ditty that comes to mind. We discovered this dodge early on (as some readers may recall), and it has unaccountably continued to work - so long as at least the lyrics are of our own making. But there's more to this: Singing to one's child taps into something primeval in all of us, and the way he responds - by settling, gurgling or just appearing to be attentive - is the closest we've come these first few months to two-way communication. There is magic in music.

No 1: Never fail to perform the Midnight Check
Sonny can sometimes seem to spend the whole day coming up with new ways of torturing us. The frustration can pile up, and we're guessing that the same thing happens with many a harried parent. We recommend this restorative: First, wait till your child is in deep slumber at close of day. Then, spend 10 full seconds gazing on his peacefully-sleeping visage. It's a solid guarantee that you'll feel at least morally refreshed - and all sorts of unworthy doubts will be swept aside. At least until the next wailing session.

[So that's our ten tips. Every mum and pa out there will have their own hard-earned nuggets of parenting wisdom. Part with them - and we'll thank you for telling us.]

Friday, June 20, 2008

Our top ten babycare tips (Part I)

Two months into our parenting gig, here are 10 things we've learned the hard way:

No 10: Babies smell nice... only if you work at it
Sonny arrived with a clean, fresh aroma that we took to be the mythically pure 'baby smell' - but turned out to be something that is only maintained by infant shampoo and lotion. At least once per feeding, Sonny will regurgitate some milk, which inevitably gunk-ifies in his hair as well as all over his mouth, neck and chest. A few applications of this emulsion and he's positively ripe.

No 9: Con/beg/blackmail someone - anyone - into helping out
Trust us: However good you are at nappy-changing, infant-soothing and so on, the endless iterations of childcare will wear you out - unless there's someone who can step in for at least a few hours while you recharge. Once you're tired, by the way, you're less slick with your care - and the baby bawls all the more. Sonny's grandmothers were willing collaborators, and we had a confinement lady for the first month - failing which, we might have had to kidnap someone off the street...

No 8: Don't buy too much clothing... and prize hand-me-downs
Sure, Sonny is messy and needs changing several times a day - but somehow it's the same few comfortable outfits that get reused. We have a mound of garments, many of them gifts, that have been hardly touched: Also, it has been used items from relatives that we often found to be the easiest on the skin, easiest to put on and easiest to handwash.

No 7: The middle name of all babies is 'Changeable'
Just when you think you've nailed down what causes your little one to cry, or worked out the ideal sleep-feed cycle, everything will change. Time and again, we've found it necessary to disregard what we'd learned and use Sherlock Holmes as our model (as we've blogged about before) to deduce the new irritant, snooze pattern or preferred sleeping position. Steel yourself for this and take it as a challenging game.

No 6: Practise guerrilla bathing
One of most horrible experiences we've had is trying to bathe a writhing, wailing baby. One of the most enjoyable? Bathing a cooing, amiable Sonny. To avoid the former, we've found it best not to have too fixed a bath time, but to pounce on those moments when he's in a good mood. This is usually not immediately after a meal (chances of vomiting and other 'accidents' in the water are too high) or on waking up (grumpiness quotient is high), but sometime in between.

[Halfway there. We unveil our Top Five tips in tomorrow's post].

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Who's this Scottish Papa?

Pa, we must stress, does not have red hair.

Neither has he ever worn a kilt or played the bagpipes - though he did do a bit of hiking in the Scottish Highlands once upon a time.

All this is relevant, in case you were wondering, because Pa has recently found himself speaking to Sonny in a faux Scottish accent. He's at a loss to explain it, but when he's about to bathe our son, he'll say: "Och, time fer a wee wetting, me bairn.'' Or he'll hoist Sonny to show him something, and go: "Aye, that's a bonny field of grass yonder."

No one, it must be said, is more stumped about this than Pa, who has previously shown no tendencies towards, and definitely no aptitude for, things Hibernian. His speech patterns heretofore (he's doing the typing here, and whacking especially firmly at the keys) were the epitome of normalcy.

Speaking pidgin Scots is not normal.

A paranormal explanation would invoke possession, but we reject this out of hand. Not because we laugh at the notion of spirits, by the way, but because Pa's Scots accent is so appalling no self-respecting ghost would come within miles of it. Anybody with a plausible account involving, say, a repressed wish to be William Wallace is welcome to write in. At the same time, after our initial surprise, we're not much bothered any more: We're figuring it's probably akin to catching an exotic strain of the flu, and that it should pass of its own accord.

In the meantime, the accent seems to hold Sonny's attention remarkably well (maybe the incongruity is evident even to eight-week-olds) and even has a soothing effect. The rhythms are not unpleasant, the whole situation is worth the odd chuckle and no one seems to the worse off for it.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth - or Highland pony, for that matter?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A mother's obsession

To say that Mum has Sonny continually on her mind is to greatly understate things.

Most obviously, her days are pretty much taken up with feeding him, caring for him or worrying about some aspect of either activity. But in fact, all our eight-week-old son has to do is to start to cry for Mum to suffer an attack of colic. A wail at the wrong time can remotely trigger spurting milk.

So tight is the physiological and psychological bond, it doesn't relax even when Mum's asleep: The other night, she dreamt again about Sonny (not the first such instance, for anyone who recalls an earlier post). Before her eyes, he was sucked down into suddenly-appearing quicksand. Things morphed into a full-scale disaster movie scenario, with rooms upon rooms of survivors through which Mum combed desperately - before finally catching sight of his Winnie the Pooh pajamas.

It has been rather a shock, experiencing how motherly attachment to one's offspring can take such a powerful hold so early on. And, of course, it can only deepen with time and shared experience. Suddenly, tired cliches seem to quicken with pulsing credibility. Like the one about how some mothers never cease to worry about the silliest aspects of their grown-up children's welfare. Or about how a child's decisions, or apparent ingratitude, can strike like blows to the heart.

Aren't we getting ahead of ourselves, you might ask? Best to focus on the nitty-gritty, and take the joys (and frustrations) of each day as they come. Well, it's not that Mum doesn't try. It's just that there are forces at work here that far transcend any easily-mastered want or urge. Still, she expects, with time, to at least become more used to the notion of being a mother.

For now, she'll settle for some way to stem her colic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So round is our baby

Our son is fat.

When we said a while back that Sonny was ugly, we added a careful proviso: We felt this way about only one facet of him.

But there's no limiting the truth here: He's gone round, all-round. Slim enough when he entered the world eight weeks ago, he's been filling up like a bicycle tyre ever since, or should we say like the Michelin Man.

There are clashing opinions in our home regarding this, one that may reflect a worldwide divide in baby debates. Mum is from the school that thinks babies look cutest when there is - how does one put it - a certain sculpting of fat in the right places. Cheeks substantial enough to be pinched, limbs generous enough to be playfully pulled at: It's all part of the ideal presentation for proper parental baby-basking. Sonny's uncle is of a similar opinion, and has been known to claim that only fat babies are cute.

Pa, for his part, isn't proclaiming that there is some health issue regarding chubbiness (there shouldn't be). In fact, when a baby is peacefully asleep, a certain roly-polyness may even enhance overall adorability. But a fat trap looms for the unwary, warns Pa: Beefier babies, when crying lustily, look especially petulant and ill-disciplined. When being fed, there is a danger of their appearing greedy where a more modestly-proportioned infant would seem merely hungry.

Such matters of baby aesthetics may seem fit topics only for inane repartee. But they reproduce in wee dimensions the equally meaningless debates that rage over which sorts of 'body shapes' are most comely, and 'how fat is too fat' when it comes to lingerie models - or even 'true beauty'. It is only at the extremes that we will find people starving or purging themselves to fit prevailing stereotypes. You won't catch either of us controlling Sonny's milk intake in order to have him at optimal plumpness, whatever that may mean. But whenever we bandy about notions of attractiveness - and there's no age restriction on what we're talking about here - we take ourselves too seriously only at our peril.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Let's greet every driver

The oddity struck us as we were introducing Sonny to his first ride on the public bus.

"We say 'Hello' and 'Thank you' to Mr Driver," we were telling him. And then we realised that this wasn't true, generally speaking.

Now, it is the case that, with the minibus that serves our little condominium community - ferrying us to and from the nearby train station - folks tend to be courteous and even chatty to the driver. But when it comes to the regular bus services, the same folks clam up, and never favour the bus captain with so much as a hello. It's a pattern we've seen repeated many times.

"Well, there's more of a sense of community when it's the same driver every day and a small pool of repeat users," suggested Mum, as we mulled over the double standard.

Which might well explain why folks behave the way they do - without justifying it. If our basic sense of courtesy suggests to us that a bus driver deserves some basic acknowledgement of his existence, then it surely shouldn't matter whether the driver was your uncle, the condo regular or the chauffeur for the Martian Express. And the point need not be restricted to drivers either.

But hang on, some might counsel: Ought we to be sufficiently happy that our Singaporean or Malaysian civic consciousness at least extends to 'smaller-pool' inclusivity? Well, in a way, it would actually be less irksome if we were more consistent in roundly ignoring drivers! Every few minutes, it's worth betting, there's still a Malaysian or Singaporean travelling abroad being startled by how bus drivers and passengers in other lands will exchange greetings, pass comments on the weather and otherwise - gasp - interact.

For our part, at least, we'll be teaching Sonny to be consistent in his conduct. To be polite to all. Er... that's just as soon as we can convince him that a furry mouse isn't his best friend.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mousey, my friend

And to think that we'd been trying to capture Sonny's attention, throwing in bright voice tones, cheery patter and exaggerated smiles.

Now he's finally showing an interest in communicating - only it's to a small furry rodent.

It's dispiriting, really, to see him making weird gooey sounds while his eyes are directed at the creature - no larger than his head - perched by him. Little else, certainly not his parents, has held Sonny's attention for such stretches of time these last couple of days.

A few soft toys were among the congratulatory gifts we received from assorted friends and relatives. And one of them was our present bane, black and white of face, with yellow booties and white blobs for hands. It doesn't even have proper eyes, just elongated black holes that are positively ghoulish.

We know, we know. In years to come, when we have to really worry about the sort of company our child might keep, and what sort of axe murderers might pass for his friends, we would find a cuddlesome mouse as innocuous a pal as could be imagined. And surely, you say, we wouldn't be small-minded enough to feel jealousy towards a toy?

But then, you can't see Sonny gibber at his mousey friend, communing with toyland while not deigning to give us the time of day (except at mealtime, but that's a different kettle of fish). Its saving grace is that it can at times hold tears at abeyance, purchasing us extra minutes of recuperation.

That, at least, almost puts us in its debt.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hiccoughs, minor and major

Sonny makes all sorts of sounds, from grunts and howls to giggles and coos. But the sound he produces perhaps most often is the hiccough. Actually, Mum has been familiar with it since Sonny was in the womb.

"He's hiccoughing", she would announce to a skeptical Pa, often half-way through dinner at the hawker centre. Not that she could actually hear anything, but she could certainly feel it - the little jolt-and-settle that would come at more or less regular intervals. It's a bit like putting bells on the feet of an out-and-about baby: When they ring, you know that he's up to something, even if you haven't caught sight of him.

Anyway, Sonny has been making his unsteady way about the world for seven-odd weeks now, and his penchant for hiccoughing has been perhaps the most obvious link to when he was marinating happily inside Mum. There's no rhyme or reason to these visitations, which come several times a day, often after feeds - but he never seems put out or bothered. It's just a part of the environment that he never questions, though by rights the jangling should at least make some noticeable impression.

Thing is, after we're good and grown, there are other sorts of hiccoughs that we kind of ignore. Like folks in need. Or unjust practices. Or just our own pettiness. We may take hazy note - it may sound a discordant note - but then we just move on without wondering whether there's anything here that we could act upon or change.

One could traditionally banish hiccoughs by taking nine measured sips of water, or by putting a rice bowl upside-down on one's head, then rapping on it with a pair of chopsticks. For the moment, Sonny has no need for any such solutions. And he'll find no easy folk remedies, alas, for the less ephemeral hiccoughs that crop up in our lives.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What's the next moon shot?

We were at the airport, sending Sonny's granny off on her 20-hour trip to look in on her other grandson. Sonny's main contribution was to noisily short-circuit the departure-gate goodbyes.

Anyway, we got to wondering what sort of 'great achievements' were left that might astound Sonny in a decade or two. Flying halfway round the world, on a whim or on business, is already completely routine. We can get pretty much to anywhere in the world without much trouble. Even spaceflight is ho-hum. If and when the first human lands on Mars, it'll be a landmark - but nobody pretends that it would be as groundbreaking as, say, when Armstrong reached the moon.

Should we look to politics? We were watching television, Sonny as attentive as usual ('burble burble'), and there was Barack Obama sewing up the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. A black man now has a supremely viable shot at the world's most powerful political post - and he only just squeezed out Hilary Clinton, who would have been the first woman to come that close. So does anything still seem impossible in any survey of the 'art of the possible'? Perhaps there'll be a world government to come... but since we already have the United Nations, the European Union and countless free trade agreements pointing the way, it will seem more incremental than anything else.

We could, of course, keep scouring the whole realm of human endeavour. There's sports, and whatever the future equivalent may be of the one-minute mile. Tiger Woods beating Nicklaus' 18-Major mark in golf - nailing 20, or 25? Thing is, we're probably too inured to records being broken in sports.

In the end, our best bet is for some unheralded field opening up that the generation now raising Sonny can't even imagine. Computers, the Internet, genetics: These came out of left field, and the world will never be the same. We never did come up with any new milestone to match the moon shot. But chances are that human achievement will trump our limited imaginations, and that Sonny will get his chance at wonder.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Doctor stumped without his chart

A series of surreal visits to the polyclinic have left us stewing. See what you think:

1st visit (three weeks ago)
Sonny's parents (SP): Doctor, the whites of our son's eyes have been a little yellow. His complexion too...
Polytechnic doctor (PD): You say he's a month old? Jaundice needs to be investigated [sends Sonny off for some blood tests. 30 minutes later, he's reviewing the results]. Hmm. You should have brought him in earlier.
SP: Is it bad?
PD: It's hard to say. If you had brought your son in earlier, I would have been better able to decide if he needed to be hospitalised. But my chart is only for a month.
SP: Chart?
PD: Yes, look here [points to a chart tacked to the wall]. This tells me whether the bilirubin levels are considered dangerously high, given his age. But the chart only give guidance for the first month - and your child is over a month old.
SP: Er... we apologise. But what now?
PD: I don't know [begins to twirl his pen]. I'm not sure. You really should have brought him in earlier. Now it's not on the chart [eventually decides we should redo the tests in a week].

2nd visit (two weeks ago). Same polyclinic, different doctor.
PD: The bilirubin levels are down. That's good. Come back and redo the tests in a week.

3rd visit (a week ago). Same polyclinic, same doctor as in second visit.
PD: Well, the levels are down again... but actually, these tests don't tell us much. Your son is too old for them. Anyway, come back for another round of [the same] tests next week.

4th visit (yesterday). Same polyclinic, different doctor.
PD: Tell me again why you bothered coming in again? The tests don't really tell us much given your child's age. And last week's readings were low enough anyway.

[Sonny is (and has always been) alert, gaining weight and eating well. In short, he seems fine. We're not quite sure about some of these medicos...]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sonny the sniper

We've blogged about how seven-week-old Sonny can seem, relatively speaking, the fittest person in our family. Now the first signs are emerging that he may become a great marksman or free-throw specialist.

At the moment, he's just a sweet-faced pest, the way he's beating us silly in Wrong-place Spitting. That's the game that automatically starts once we place Sonny on any surface (bed or mattress, say) and - to keep saliva or regurgitated milk from discolouring it - position his head on an old face towel.

Without fail, Sonny will then contrive to dirty up the surface anyway. Perhaps he'll cunningly move his head to get just the right angle, then produce a great big dribble of goo. Or he'll roll himself slightly, or even push aside the face towel aside with his chin, before triumphantly choking up some milky deposit. It's disconcerting: Try as we might, the little ace always finds an opening. Oh, he'll stay still if we're watching him closely, with only an adorable gurgle now and then. But once our heads are turned, he moves and takes his shot. The only spot he never nails, of course, is the face towel intended for that purpose. It stays pristine, unless we grab it to wipe our sweaty brows.

Anyway, we're not giving up: Visit our modest home, and you'd see pieces of cloth, strategically-placed, littering whichever surface Sonny's presently occupying. But his continuing accuracy does remind us that all the planning in the world isn't enough to guarantee success. Fairly trivial, when it's a matter of leaving splotches on sofas and so on. Rather more serious if we're talking about parents who plan out their children's futures years ahead.

Of course, were we more superstitious folk, it's possible we could see his infant marksmanship as a cosmic sign that Sonny will prove remarkably adept at scoring the right goals in life, whether academic, career-wise or romantically. We wouldn't know, since we never did put much store in reading tea leaves.

Though tea might not stain half as bad as Sonny's milky goo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Diaper mountain

The math is sobering - and a bit stomach-churning.

To start with, there are 300 units in our apartment development. Perhaps 250 are occupied by families with at least one child still in diapers (yes, we're a young lot).

Sonny, who's hit the seven-week mark, gets through between five and eight sets of diapers a day. If we take six as an average for diaper-users, that means (250 X 6 =) 1,500 soiled nappies are discarded, every day, at just our tiny condo community. Give it a mere month, and we'd have our very own mountain (30 X 1,500 = 45,000) of these partially non-biodegradable bundles which, over 400 years on, will likely still be clogging some landfill.

On recovering from these back-of-the-envelope calculations, and after an Internet sweep that further promoted at least trying cloth nappies, we decided to take the plunge. Well, more like dip our toe in. We had earlier bought a stack of reusable diapers, but never gotten round to using them (except as makeshift blankets and swaddle cloths). So we resolved to use at least one a day.

And it was yesterday morning, in fact, that Mum first folded and refolded the square piece of cloth, popped in the liner, then wrapped the result around Sonny's midriff like a zhong zi (glutinous rice dumpling). It looked amusing and lasted an hour before it had to be speedily changed, already damp and with the colour changing alarmingly.

We know, we know: There are higher-tech, more absorbent reusable diapers on the market. But for now, we'll try to stick with what we have, and see how things go. Thoughts from anyone with 'nappy testimony', it must be said, would be especially welcome. We're not expecting to realise any financial savings from our cautious approach. But, hey, every little blow for the environment - and every dent in that diaper mountain - ought to help, right?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pregnancy perks extended

Like a shopper who's nabbed an especially good bargain, Mum's been feeling pretty pleased with herself lately.

First, a dirty little secret: During her pregnancy, she had become increasingly steamed at seat-hogging commuters on trains who ignored the claims of women with bulging bellies. Indeed, when confronted with smug youngsters staring through her as though transparent, she had even begun snapping surreptitious cellphone camera shots of the offenders.

Her plan? To start a blog dedicated to exposing the inconsiderate to the ridicule of the world.

The project never debuted - and some people did offer Mum their seats at various times. But these last couple of days, she has been delighted to discover that, even after the birth of her child, the perks of pregnancy - as she sees it - could still be enjoyed.

On the train, people are still rising from their seats to offer them to her. Now, of course, she has a sarong across her torso, with Sonny peeking sleepily out. And this seems to have made her even more noticeable than when she was in the family way! (And Pa? Oddly enough, when he hoists Sonny on his baby knapsack, nobody much gives him a second glance.)

These little gimmes may not mean much in the larger scheme of things. Yet perhaps they not only brighten one's day, but serve to reaffirm the essential goodness of humanity... Oh, what nonsense.

It's just that everyone just enjoys a bargain!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The mystery of the wailing babe

Cracking the case took hard detective work, as though we were childcare versions of Sherlock Holmes. Again and again, we were baffled: One minute, Sonny would be drinking happily at his mother's breast. Then he'd break off and glance about - before launching a major crying jag. Was something wrong with her milk?, Mum fretted. Was it the way she was holding him, or something in the environment?

The spate of crying was even more mysterious than usual. So, as fans of the greatest detective who never lived, we applied his methods. First, a thorough examination of the scene. Sonny was fine physiologically, we determined: No insects were biting, no mouth ulcers lurked. No culprits there.

Was it Mum's hold? Did he just want to throw up? But Sonny had seemed perfectly happy till his mood changed, with no indication that he had been feeling uncomfortable. Surely there would have been some sign, had the truth lain in that direction. The logic was impeccable: Suspect cleared.

With all other factors eliminated, as Holmes had said, whatever remained - however unlikely - had to be the truth. The only suspect left? Sonny himself. And then the pieces fell into place, without even a need for puffing on smelly shag tobacco.

When Sonny had wanted a little break from his drinking, we deduced, he had released his hold - seeming to signal that he had drunk enough. His head turned away slightly, so Mum had automatically moved him a fraction away from her breast.

In fact, however, the rascal had every intention to resume snacking. And so he had been alarmed at being moved away from his milk source: Someone was stealing his food! That supremely-terrifying prospect had immediately triggered the waterworks.

We tested the theory the next time Sonny began wailing. A quick shove back to the milk source. Glug, glug. Tear-tap switched off. Hypothesis proven and mystery solved... until the next one. For we know many more baby mysteries will arise: Some, we suspect, intractable enough to stump even the greatest fictional detective ever.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Milestones, not millstones

The other day, in a clinic swarming with ill folk, Sonny underwent his first rite of passage.

He may only be six weeks going on seven, but he's already too old for certain things: A nurse told us that he no longer gets automatic priority in the queue - a privilege reserved for newborns, defined as babies still in their first month. So that quintessentially modern delight, getting in line, is now Sonny's to savour - though it is mostly his parents who will be experiencing it vicariously for now.

But there you go, son. You'll find that, sometimes, existence will seem to amount to little but a series of such gateposts: Not so much hurdles as markers to signify that you've advanced a tad further along the way of life.

Strictly chronologically, for instance, there are the birthdays that will be celebrated. There'll be school to conquer, where pivotal examinations await. There will be social encounters of various sorts that you must live through (some happy, others terrifying). And there'll be times like when you become too tall to get in for free at the train turnstile.

A wee warning, though: You don't want to become locked into seeing life as a series of steps to climb. That's neat but too linear, whereas it's the stuff that doesn't fit into the schematic that may provide the most memorable and enriching harvests. The unlikely person you meet, one ordinary morning, who becomes a lifelong friend. The silly joke you hear that somehow sticks in your head. The preposterous pattern of clouds, framed in the sky, that takes your breath away and brings magic into the everyday.

Rites of passage are important as reminders; milestones tell us that time flies, youth is fleeting and that we are being borne on a current that sweeps on inexorably. They are like the street map that's always useful when trying to navigate a city.

But as a friend once said: We need to get ourselves lost in any city, and prowl its alleyways and souks, before you really appreciate it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Dress codes and diapers

The horror of it dawned upon us when we eased Sonny out of Mum's carrier.

There we were, in the middle of our neighbourhood polyclinic, with a child clad in a Winnie the Pooh shirt and - below the midriff - nothing but a set of diapers. Mum had failed to finish dressing him.

There was nothing for it. Sonny saw the doctor, and suffered the attentions of a lab technician, in that state of dishabille. Now, some might gush that, with a six-week-old baby, no dress codes apply. But is that really true - even assuming that tropical weather, or at least high summer, makes catching a cold a minor concern?

To take one extreme, suppose we were to produce Sonny in public with nary a thread on him. Would not the average person expect, at the very least, that there be some very good reason for such a display? Perhaps the baby has an illness that necessitates a thorough sunning, you might tell yourself.

On the other hand, one does not expect an infant to be turned out in slacks and jacket, even for formal occasions (from which he is probably best kept away in any case). So what are the parameters that would define 'baby dress sense'?

The first thing we'd venture to say is that these are surely pretty elastic. At home, of course, the parents' writ is absolute. Things would also be fairly relaxed at, say, get-togethers with friends. However, the likelier it is that your baby will be 'on public view', the more we'd want to him to be - as a default setting at any rate - in more than just his underwear. A romper, say, or T-shirt and shorts, would suffice.

Diapers, then, wouldn't cut it. Which leaves only the question of why we exposed Sunny to start with.

Obviously Overwhelmed Parent Syndrome (Oops), we say, would be a decent diagnosis.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Push-ups, baby style

More than six weeks after delivering Sonny, Mum hit the gym yesterday. Yep, we're trying to resume our customary fitness routines (as opposed to the... erm... 'unconventional' one we've blogged about).

There's no question, however, as to who's working out the hardest: Pound for pound, it's Sonny by a mile.

These last couple of days, he's added push-ups to his programme. Here's how he does them: First, we'll place him on his stomach, hoping this will put him in the mind for a snooze. With the aid of his arms, Sonny will instead begin to repeatedly raise his neck, head and torso. A trifle spasmodically, it must be said, but with stubborn determination: Several minutes can go by as he does multiple sets.

From the get-go, his calisthenics have involved lots of forceful leg-shoves. Like a swimmer doing a turn at pool-side, he's forever launching off our thighs (we are selective about what surfaces we expose to such punishment). By way of warming up, however, Sonny prefers energetic arm-whirls - clockwise as well as anti-clockwise - especially when he detects milk in the vicinity. The whirling will become frantic, he throws his whole body into it and little yips of effort are heard.

Speaking of exercising his whole body, Sonny is also doing what might be called 'body-transfers': Jogging is beyond him right now, so - as an earthworm might - he wriggles and shoves his way along for alarming distances. An obvious devotee of cross-training, he tends to mix and match all of these elements simultaneously.

Of course, as with most baby athletes, Sonny is most religious about his lung-expanding breathing exercises ('rigorously-scheduled bawling sessions' to the rest of us). Every few hours, he'll pucker up his little cheeks and howl away, sometimes so enthusiastically his rhythm becomes rather ragged. While performing his calisthenics as well.

Really, the fella's putting us adults to shame...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mum's wet war

It must be a bit like what happens to soldiers after a stint in battle.

Wherever Sonny's mother goes these days, a certain detached part of her is inevitably scanning the surroundings for the enemy: Damp. She always suspects - correctly, for all we know - that something or another is wet.

Our guess is this has little to do with our now-resolved leaky pipes scare (fixed for enough to buy whole cartons of baby books, but never mind). Rather, it is surely what having to change nappies every few hours can do to you, at least if you have a delicate nervous system.

Most saliently, in other words, Mum is always catching herself wondering if Sonny's diapers are failing to 'stem the tide' and if the damp (if not worse) has invaded his clothes. Or hers, for that matter. These flashes of anxiety can come half-way through a TV show, and when Sonny isn't even in the room: They are also coming more frequently now.

You might think this passes for a minor flesh wound, as battles go. Such supersensitivity to damp might even be useful - for instance, in ensuring Sonny's comfort. But we're only six weeks into the Sonny campaign. What's the prognosis for the future: What will be the equivalent of psychological battle scars like the thousand-yard scare, or post-traumatic stress? Will Mum be jolting awake in the wee hours, crying, "Wet! Once more, in the britches"?

One obvious answer is that she'll do better with support from fellow warriors on the front line (this being code, in case he's being especially obtuse, for Pa not to forget to do his share). Mum needs to be rotated out for rest and recreation. In a couple of months' time, too, we may be handing Sonny over to a new unit - an infant care centre - for much of the day during the working week. That might help - so long as Mum doesn't start worrying from afar.

For now, at least Sonny is likely to stay pretty dry.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Try 'learning blind'

We encountered a blind man in a hurry today near the coffeeshop, his cane flickering to and fro.

Sonny was with us, tucked in a sarong but gazing upwards at Mum. His eyes seemed intent, staring unblinkingly. But, at six weeks, of course, hardly anything really registers: Not shapes, not colours. There is nothing wrong with his visual equipment. Everything simply has to be learned.

We're lucky that many of the trickiest things we'll ever have to master, like how to see or walk, we learn without consciously choosing to. We're too young to spit in the world's eye. As we begin to exert our will, a true appreciation of effort sets in: We start to say 'No', whether for lack of interest or fear of failure. Whether it's swimming or parasailing, our parents may at first be able to exert pressure. But - as the years harden us - all pressures save from ourselves will eventually be in vain.

The easy moral to be drawn from this meditation is that we can learn anything if we try hard enough: Even a man blinded by cruel fate can largely regain his independence. Yet, heartless as it is to say it, that is too easy an example. Even harder to learn would be something we really don't want, and don't need, to learn.

Why not do just that, then, instead of plumping for yet another hobby you've always found intriguing? Make it a game, amongst good friends: Let each be assigned an activity he finds completely valueless, but which he must master nonetheless. Effectively, we start out 'learning blind'.

The point of the exercise? With mastery - or the beginning of it - might come a changed perspective, unexpected appreciation and so a new-honed facet to our lives. Someone who has always scorned tribal music, say, might begin to appreciate its textures. We truly grow when our perspectives are broadened in this manner, when doors that we deliberately leave closed are unlocked.

Or, yes, when our eyes are opened to adventures always ignored.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Truth on the fourth try

All we had wanted was a taxi to the train station, so our little posse could bid adieu to Sonny's grandmother. Instead, we got a trip to the twilight zone...

The episode begins with us ringing the 24-hour booking line to order up a cab. We're put on hold. Several iterations of inane messages later - they don't even bother with muzak - we are beginning to fume. Click. Down the elevator we go, trading Sonny amongst us and ringing again using cell phones.

Another 10 minutes elapse. It's Mum on her mobile now, still getting precisely nowhere and being told to 'please wait, the service staff will take your call soon'. So Pa decides to try his luck on his cell. This time, however, he gets a completely different recorded voice, reporting that 'the booking service is not in use due to technical problems'. Only Mum, having dialled the very same number, is simultaneously being told to hang on for service.

There could be a simple explanation here, one that would make reference to data centre mismatch, different switcher stations or some such (don't ask us, we made up those terms). But that would be too boring for words. A more exciting conclusion is that, somehow, Mum and Pa were transferred into separate alternate universes. In the one Mum was briefly in, the taxi company computer was still frantically trying to patch us through to an overworked call agent. But Pa was in a different universe, where the system had crashed and the agents were out having lattes.

Still, whatever the metaphysical truth of the matter, perhaps we should be grateful for the episode. We gave up on the booking line in disgust, were able to flag down a cab and reached the station with time to spare for hot ginger tea. Sponsored by the cab company, of course - at least, funded out of the booking fee that we never did have to pay.